Hemingway’s Widow:  About Mary Welsh

Mary Welsh met Ernest Hemingway when she was 36 and he was 45. She was on her second marriage and he was on his third.

 

Mary was born in the Paul Bunyan country of Minnesota. She escaped small town life to pursue her dream of becoming a journalist, covering the looming Second World War in Europe. She worked her way up from the society pages of the Chicago Daily Express to Beaverbrook’s Daily Express in London, the largest circulation English daily in the world. From there she moved on to write for Time Life. Along the way she befriended politicians, economists, political philosophers, fellow journalists, novelists and generals, becoming intimate with some, and maintaining productive relationships with most of them. Her lover, Irwin Shaw, suggested she had a “deft tricky way with men”. Regardless of whether Shaw was right, Mary was successful in an occupation which had been reserved for men.

When she met Ernest Hemingway she had a network of worthy friends in London. He was an international celebrity. Ernest fell for Mary immediately, telling her on their third meeting that he wanted to marry her, despite the fact that neither of them was free to marry at the time. He pursued her relentlessly, writing to her constantly, pouring out his love and trying to persuade her to become his wife and manager, against the backdrop of the furious fighting through France and Germany.

Despite serious doubts, Mary eventually succumbed to his amorous assault and married him. Their stormy relationship lasted fifteen years, until his suicide in 1961. It was Hemingway’s longest marriage. Mary survived him for twenty-five years and enjoyed being Hemingway’s widow, for his celebrity continued to cast a glow upon her. Upon his death she became rich, as his sole heir, and powerful, as his literary executrix, enjoying exclusive control over his published and unpublished works. Mary saved his manuscripts from Cuba, vigorously promoted and defended the Hemingway reputation, and published so much of his work posthumously that it amounts to one third of his entire output.

Mary, has received less attention than she deserves. Hemingway’s third wife, Martha Gellhorn, dismissed Mary as a “maggot of history” for her work on the Hemingway papers and manuscripts. Mary has been written off as a person of inferior breeding compared to the other wives, and criticized for having sacrificed her career in journalism to become Hemingway’s wife. She has been portrayed as a mere victim of Hemingway’s irrational wrath and womanizing. Her autobiography, How it Was, has been criticized for its lack of insight.

Hemingway’s Widow presents a different picture. Going beyond her autobiography, to a careful study of her correspondence, journals, and diaries, and through interviews with those who knew her, we find a spirited, determined, calculating, pragmatic, yet charming person. She loved Ernest Hemingway deeply and created an environment in which he could work. She believed in his genius and made sacrifices for his art. Mary tried to save him from depression, booze, high blood pressure, and ultimately, from aggressive mental illness and suicide. Following his death, Mary worked hard to enhance and promote his literary legacy.